Yet again, I have read another headline about the upcoming Public Enterprises Governance Bill introduced by Minister Leon Jooste.
It amazes me that people talk about bills that have been introduced as if they are the law of the land already. An un-passed bill is just a pile of papers.
The PE Bill has been languishing for years in the turtle speed Parliament, so more headlines about it are unimpressive. That bill is needed to change SOEs into PEs, permanently, but will it ever happen?
Last week, this newspaper reported that the Speaker of Parliament, Dr Peter Katjivivi, was losing patience with members that do not show up for debate and voting sessions on legislative matters.
Considering the slow movement of legislation, the insufficient number of legal drafters to prepare bills and lack of political will for an effective PE Ministry, I think the PE Governance Bill is still trekking up the Drakensburg barefoot, hauling 200 kilos of climbing gear on its back.
My conspiracy-theory-warped mind believes that line ministers in Cabinet who like being the ‘power’ behind the SOEs really don’t want a PE Minister usurping their fiefdoms. There is no personal animosity at work here; it is simply a power thing.
I think ministers like being the ‘authority’ that appoint boards, affirms top SOE execs, and have the ‘last word’ on what happens at their SOEs. A PE bill, strictly enforced, will change that in many cases.
A jaundiced look at the reported clashes between the distinguished PE minister and line ministers and seated boards over the RCC, Air Namibia, NWR, NAMDIA, Meatco, NAC and other SOEs, tends to support claims of an anti-PE Ministry vibe in the halls of power.
There were ministers and board chairpersons that reminded Jooste that he has no authority; the PE Minister was basically told to ‘butt out.’
The length of time it is taking for this much-needed legislation to become law, is another telling piece of evidence of the lack of political will behind real reform of SOEs.
Remember when the Constitution was amended to increase the number of seats in Parliament and create a Vice President’s office? That was done at cheetah speed, so why the delay with the PE Governance Bill?
I also believe that there are financial interests afoot (as usual with all human endeavours) in the delays around the PE Bill. People make so much noise about how much money goes for board sitting fees, who is selected for a board and who gets hired as MD, that they miss understanding that the real cash cow at stake is SOE tenders and contracts.
There are boards, management and connected businesspeople who do not want the deals of their cronies or companies of their friends, family, comrades, and leaders within their constituencies, to come under scrutiny, unprotected by a politically dependent minister who watches their interests.
With a minister now on trial for allegedly openly taking names off a government housing list and replacing them with names of relatives, it is not too much of a stretch to believe that such things happen quite regularly and not just with one minister who got caught out.
With elections looming next year, there may be even less incentive for properly managed and supervised finances of PEs.
Hypothetically speaking, if a local businessman can bring votes and ‘clout’ in a particular area, and he is also a bidder for an SOE contract, one can assume his ‘needs’ will find support. If the PE Bill flies, then that sort of thing might be curtailed. However, right now, the status quo prevails; Jooste has a gun with no bullets without passage of that bill.
Years back when I was an SOE board chairperson, I was figuratively whacked upside the head for being too casual as I called out corruption ‘hood style even though I was alone in an informal, off-the-record meeting with the line minister. I got the public shaft three months before my term would have ended anyway.
I wish there had been a PE Ministry then and I could have presented what actually happened for independent judgement. But alas, my executioner was also my judge and jury. No one else asked to serve the government should be subjected to such treatment.
Perhaps the PE Governance Bill will force reforms that can assist MDs that are being harassed by their boards or boards that are being pressured by interfering line ministers, or management teams that are ignoring their boards and other calamities that may cause SOEs to under-perform.
Anyone who steps up to try to change how things at some SOEs are being run will come under fire. I hope Jooste is bullet proof, wears Kevlar undies, a serious helmet, a cape to shield his back (because that is where the killing blow will come) and has direct access to the appointing authority.
Without these things, I fear that a good man who is right for his post will become superfluous, and that would be a shame.
If there is one good thing about the empty state treasury, it is the fact that SOE bailouts and the backdoor-deal-gravy-train has slowed considerably. There are few funds for largely unmonitored cash cow building and construction tenders, projects and open purchase orders that have been used previously to hide sneaky leakages.
Let us see if the PE Governance Bill under the (hopefully) bullet-proof hand of Jooste can really change SOEs into PEs.